Our History

In 2007, Dana Suskind, M.D., a pediatric surgeon, asked herself why it was that many of her patients did wonderfully after they received a cochlear implant, and others did not. Her initial search revealed an important answer: the ability to hear was not enough; differences in early language experiences caused learning disparities. These differences, she observed, were true in hearing and deaf children alike, with children from low-income families at greatest risk.

Committed to addressing these disparities, Dr. Suskind launched a research program, then-called Thirty Million Words®, at the University of Chicago in 2010.

In the years since, the Thirty Million Words Initiative has grown into a major, interdisciplinary research institute called the TMW Center for Early Learning + Public Health.

Our history can best be summarized in four major phases:

2007 - 2013: Conceptualization and Testing

Dr. Dana Suskind observes systemic problem among her patient population and steps out of the operating room to put research, strengths, and skills to work to address the issue. During this time, Suskind and team launch Thirty Million Words, develop the first TMW-Home Visiting Curriculum, complete an RCT study of that curriculum, and publish their first peer-reviewed journal article.

2014 - 2016: RCTs and Early Implementation

This period includes the development and piloting of TMW’s core concepts (3Ts), key messaging, and essential tools for asset-based, parent-centered curricula. The team develops new interventions, completes additional RCTs, and publishes Dr. Suskind’s best-selling “Thirty Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain.”

2017 - 2021: Launch of the TMW Center

Recognizing the issues with the original “thirty million word” study as well as the problems with the “word gap,” framing, Dr. Suskind and team adopt a new name when launching their new Center, a joint venture between the University of Chicago’s Biological Sciences and Social Sciences Divisions, in 2017. From 2017 to 2021, The TMW Center for Early Learning + Public Health made early progress toward its vision of creating a population-level shift in knowledge and behavior of parents and caregivers in order to optimize the foundational brain development in all children.

2022 and beyond:

We will continue to focus our efforts on three main work streams: R&D of interventions, tools, and technology; developing and evaluating community-based implementation models; and generating momentum for a public health approach to supporting parents and promoting children’s foundational brain development. As a result, thousands more parents and caregivers in this country will have access to information and tools that help them optimize the foundational brain development of their children. (We are on course to directly reach 15,000 families across the nation by 2024). We intend to maintain this pace of growth in the years to follow—and to indirectly reach more than a million others through our public impact campaigns.